RED HOOK, Brooklyn (PIX11) — Tuesday was the first day of the summer pool season, and while the opening of any pools in the summer’s heat is always welcome, a shortage of lifeguards and other issues resulted in a number of pools being unable to do so. The lifeguard shortage is part of a national problem, but as some staff members in the New York City Parks Department told PIX11 News, the city may be able to add more lifeguards and keep more of the ones it has if it were to raise pay.
The Sol Goldman Pool in Red Hook Park is a microcosm of system-wide issues on the first day of the summer pool season.
Diane Rivera, who came to the pool with her preschool-aged daughter, spoke of the biggest issue of the day.
“It’s kind of unfortunate that the kiddie pools are closed,” she said. “They say there aren’t enough lifeguards.”
The kiddie pool area had no splashpad or sprinklers turned on because of the lifeguard requirement. A certain number of lifeguards is also required for an Olympic-sized pool to open fully. At the Goldman Pool, which is Olympic-sized, as well as at other locations across the city, only a third of the pool was open for swimming. The rest was cordoned off with caution tape — unusable due to a lack of lifeguards.
Shameca Abbott and her daughter experienced the shortage firsthand. Their local pool is the Douglass and DeGraw, or Double-D, Pool about a mile-and-a-half northeast of Red Hook. It was among a number of pools that didn’t have lifeguards on Tuesday.
“We went to Double-D first,” Abbott checked Douglass and DeGraw first, but came to the Goldman Pool in Red Hook after seeing “Double-D” was closed.
“This is a better pool,” Abbott said, but getting to Red Hook cost her a round-trip Uber fare.
The city had tried to recruit 1,400 lifeguards in order to open all of its pools this summer, but it was only able to attract 626 lifeguards — less than half of what it had determined it needed.
Still, said NYC Parks Commissioner Sue Donohue, the city has been determined to open as many of its 51 pools as possible.
“We’re going to do it… as safely as we possibly can,” she said.
The Parks Department confirmed that multiple pools that it had hoped to open on Tuesday were unable to do so, mostly because of lifeguard shortages. The department is still trying to get an exact count of the full number.
There is a nationwide lifeguard shortage, but in New York City, one reason it may be so acute was summed up by Dylan Wu, a lifeguard at the Hamilton Fish Pool in Manhattan.
“The pay needs to increase,” he told PIX11 News. “The starting salary is 16 [dollars] an hour, which is only a dollar more than the minimum wage.”
Many jobs with comparable pay also require far less training and certifications than lifeguarding.
It’s part of the reason that Wu said that other positions may be more rewarding.
“If you want the real truth,” he said, “I’m looking for a new job, currently, but at the moment, this is what I’m going to do until I get a better job, of course, with a higher pay.”
Lifeguards at New York State-run pools and beaches have a $20 starting salary, due to a pay increase initiated by Gov. Kathy Hochul earlier this month.